How To Write A Melody On The Piano (For Beginners)

Lisa Witt  /  Songwriting / Aug 27

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This one is for all the songwriters and composers out there. I’m often asked how to write a melody, so I’m going to share some tips that I have which might help you.

Before I start – it’s important to state that these are some of MY ideas, but there are many more out there, and when it comes to music there are exceptions to every rule.

So here we go.

Start with a chord progression

Every great melody has a chord progression built underneath it. It’s kind of like the foundation we’ll use, and it helps give us guidance to choose the notes for our melody.

When you’re starting out, it helps to choose a simple chord progression that sounds nice. If you’ve watched many of our videos you’ll know some of the most common chord progressions out there. Today we’ll use the 1-6-5-4 progression in the key of D major.

Play the scale over each chord

This step helps us explore all the notes in the scale so that we can identify the ones that we like. During this step you’ll probably hear notes and think, “Oh I like that!” or “That sounded bad.”

It’s a good idea to make a mental note of which sounds you DO like, but make sure to play the scale over ALL the chords because the notes will have different characteristics depending on which chord they are played with.

Think about the ‘role’ that each note plays 

In Western music, every note in a scale serves a role, or a function. Some notes create tension, while others create resolution.

Learning a few simple things about what role the notes of the scale play will help you put them together in an order that makes sense and is nice to listen to.

Pick a combination of tones

This is the fun part. Think about the notes you heard in step two that you liked, and try combining several notes over the chords, thinking also about their role. 

This step involves a lot of trial and error, but that’s ok! And remember you don’t have to get too complicated to create a really beautiful and memorable melody. Sometimes the simple things are the best.

So those are a few steps you can use to help you get started. As I said at the beginning these are just some guidelines. When you start to play around with melodies you might find notes and sounds that you love — which are NOT in the scale you’re working in.

There are always exceptions to every rule.

The most important thing is to have fun!

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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